The Constitution of India consecrated as it is to the ideals of equality and justice both in the social and political fields, abolished any discrimination either against or in favour of any class of persons on the grounds of religion, race or place of the birth. Indeed, the principle of democratic equality, envisaged in the Preamble to the Constitution, can work only when the nation as a whole is brought on the same level, as far as that is practicable. Our Constitution, therefore, prescribes certain temporary measures to help the backward sections to come up to the same level with the rest of the nation, as well as certain permanent safeguards for the protection of the cultural, linguistic and similar right of any section of the community who might be said to constitute a 'minority' from the numerical point of view, in order to prevent the democratic machine from being used as an engine of oppression by the numerical majority. It is only then that the principle of 'fraternity' assumed by the Preamble would be fulfilled and the integrity of the nation achieved. The safeguards for minorities and backward classes may, accordingly, be discussed under two headings i.e., permanent and temporary provision.
- Religious Freedom : Though the provision guaranteeing religious freedom to every individual (Art. 25) cannot be said to be a specific safeguard in favour of the minorities, it does protect the religious minorities. The Constitution, for instance, does not contain any provision for the furtherance of any particular religion as it may raise legitimate apprehensions in the minds of those who do not belong to that religion.
- Linguistic and Cultural Rights : Art. 29 (1) lays down that any section of the citizens of India having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the fundamental right to conserve them.
- Facilities for Instruction in Mother Tongue : The Constitution directs every state to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups and empowers the President to issue proper direction to any state in this behalf [(Art. 350 (A)]
- Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities : Art. 350 (B) lays down that a special officer for linguistic minorities shall be appointed by the President to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under the Constitution and report to the President.
- Non-Discrimination in State Educational Institutions : Art. 29 (2) lays down that no citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state or receiving state aid, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them. It is a very wide provision intended to protect not only the religious minorities but also 'local' or linguistic minorities.
- Right to Establish Educational Institution : All minorities, whether based on religion or language, have the fundamental right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice [Art. 30 (1)]. while Art. 29 (1) enables the minorities to maintain their language or script, the present clause enables them to run their own educational institutions, so that the state cannot compel them to attend any other institutions not to their liking. By the 1978 amendment favourable treatment has been accorded to such minorities' educational institutions in the matters of com-pensation for compulsory acquisition of property by the state.
- Non-Discrimination in State Aid to Educational Institutions : According to Art. 30 (2), the state should not in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.
- Non-Discrimination in Public Employment : Art. 16 (2) lays down that no person can be discriminated against in matters of public employment, on ground of race, religion or caste.
- Provisions for OBC/SC/ST : The Constitution has included safeguards for the advancement of the backward classes which includes OBC, SCs and STs. These are discussed under two heads : () special provisions for SC/ST; and (ii) special provisions for Backward Classes.
- Special Provisions For SC/ST : There is no definition of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution itself. But the President is empowered to draw up a list in consultation with the Governor of each state, subject to revision by Parliament (Arts. 341 and 342). The President has made Orders, specifying Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the different states in India, which have since been amended by Acts of Parliament. The Constitution makes various special provisions for the protection of the interests of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. These are as follows:
- Special Provision for State Measures : Measures for the advancement of SC/ST are exempted (Art. 15(4)) from the general ban against discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, caste etc., contained in Art 15. It means that if special provisions are made by the state in favour of members of these castes and tribes, other citizens are not entitled to impeach the validity of such provisions on the ground that such provisions are discriminatory against them.
- Protection Against Alienation of Property : While the rights of free movement and residence throughout the territory of India and of acquisition and disposition of property are guaranteed to every citizen of India, in the case of members of SC/ST special restrictions may be imposed by the state as may be required for the protection of their interests. For instance, to prevent the alienation or fragmentation of their property, the state may provide that they shall not be entitled to alienate their property except with the concurrence of a specified administrative authority or except under specified conditions [Art. 9 (5)].
- Reservation in Employment The claims of the members of SC/ST are to be taken into consideration, consistently with the main-tenance of efficiency of administration, in making appointments to government service (Art. 335). The reservation policy applies to government jobs and admissions to educational institutions. At the centre, while the SCs and STs have a quota of 22.5 percent, the OBC quota in jobs is 27 percent, bringing the total reservations to 49.5 percent. Although the Supreme Court had in 1992 ruled that reservation quota could not be applied to Government employees in promotions beyond 1997, Parliament has, through the Constitution (86th Amendment) Bill, restored reservation for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in promotion. This protection was not simultaneously given to the Other Backward Classes.
- Special Officer for SC/ST : According to Art. 338, there is to be a Special Officer for SC/ST, to be appointed by the President. It is the duty of this officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for SC/ST under the Constitution and to report to the President upon their working. These reports are laid before each House of Parliament. This officer, appointed since 1950, is designated Commissioner for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The officer also investigates into and reports on the working of safeguards relating to the Anglo-Indian Community (Art. 338 (3)).
- SC/ST Welfare Commission : The President was bound at the expiration of ten years after the commencement of the Constitution, to appoint a Commission to report on the administration of the Scheduled Areas and the welfare of the Schedule Tribes in the states.
- Parliamentary Committees on Welfare Schemes : According to Art. 339 (2), the executive power of the Union extends to giving direction to States. Three Parliamentary committees have been set up for this purpose. Their function is to formulate and review the working of schemes for the welfare of SC/ST and to advise the Government of India on matters relating to these castes and tribes.
- Financial Aid for Welfare Schemes : Financial aid to implement these welfare schemes is provided for in Art. 275(1). The Union must give grants-in-aid to the States for meeting the costs of these schemes.
- Ministers for Tribal Welfare : Art. 164 lays down that in Bihar, M.P. and Orissa there should be a Minister in charge of Tribal Welfare, who may also be in charge of the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and other backward classes. In practice, such welfare departments have been set up not only in these three states, but also in other States.
- Special Provisions for Administration of Scheduled Areas : According to Art. 244 special provisions laid down in the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution, shall apply for the administration of areas inhabited by the Scheduled Tribes.Over and above all these there is a general directive in Art. 46 that the States shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of SC/ST, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
- Special Provisions For Backward Classes : In addition to making special provisions for SC/ ST, who form specific category of socially depressed people, the Constitution has made separate provisions for the amelioration and advance of all 'backward classes', in general. Though the Constitution does not define 'backward classes' the very fact that SC/ST are mentioned together with the expression 'backward classes' in a number of provisions shows that there may be other backward classes of people besides SC/ST. The Constitution provides for the appointment of a Commission to investigate the conditions of backward classes (Art. 340). The first such Commission was appointed in 1953 with Kaka Saheb Kalelkar as Chairman. The Commission submitted its report in 1955, but the government found the tests recommended by the Commission for the identification of backward classes to be too vague and inadequate. The second Backward Classes Commission, chaired by B.P Mandal, submitted its report in 1980.
- Mandal Commission Report : In 1990, exactly a decade after the submission of the Mandal Commission report, the National Front Government initiated steps to implement its recommendations. Order were issued for the implementation of the Mandal Commission's recommendation relating to job reservations to the extent of 27%. This was challenged as unconstitutional. A nine-Judge Bench, in 1992, rejected this challenge. Thus now the reservations in jobs are 22.5 percent for the SC and ST and 27 percent for other Backward Castes (The Supreme Court in 1963 in Balaji case has said that speaking generally the total reservations should be less than 50 percent). The criticisms against the Mandal Commission Report are founded on two kinds of analysis. The first is that the OBC's are not, or have not been oppressed or subjugated. The second that some of the OBCs are dominant castes and consequently do not suffer consequences of a low ritual status. The castes and communities grouped together as the OBCs have not suffered collectively that kind of injury in either the recent or the distant past. Most of the backward castes though socially and educationally backward are not now socially discriminated or politically and economically deprived. Therefore, the way out suggested by some is that while reservation for OBCs on caste basis can continue some of the castes, families of individuals should be excluded from such benefits.
The Constitution lays down several provisions for the advancement of SC/ST and the Anglo-Indian Community, which were intended to be temporary, just-sufficient to enable them to come up to the level of the general body of citizens. These were:
- Reservation of Seats for SC/ST in Legislature : Seats are to be-reserved in the Lok Sabha for the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes except the Scheduled Tribes in the tribal areas of Assam, and the Scheduled Tribes in the autonomous districts of Assam (Autonomous States now). Seats are similarly to be reserved in the Legislative Assembly of every State (Art. 332). Such reservation will cease on the expiration of 50 years (vide 62nd Amendment, 1989) from the commencement of the Constitution, i.e. in January 2000 (Art. 334).
- Nomination of Anglo-Indians to Legislatures : The President may, if he is of the opinion that the Anglo-India community is not adequately represented in the Lok Sabha, can nominate not more than two members of the community (Art. 331). Under similar conditions, the Governor can nominate one member of the community for the Legislative Assembly (Art. 333). This reservation also will cease at the same time as the one above.
- National Commission For SC/ST : The Constitution (65th Amendment) Act, 1990 replaced the Commissioner for SC/ST by a new Commission. It consists of a Chairman, a Vice Chairman and five members to be appointed by the President. The Commission is entrusted with the following responsibilities:
- To investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for SC/ST under the Constitution and laws in force, and to evaluate the working of such safeguards.
- To enquire into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of SC/ST.
- To participate and advise on the planning process of the socio-economic development of SC/ ST and to evaluate the progress.
- To submit annual report to the President about the working of safeguards and make suitable recommendations.
- To discharge any other related function assigned by the President and by Parliament. The reports submitted by the Commission are laid before Parliament along with a memorandum regarding action taken and reasons for non-acceptance of any recommendations. There are similar provisions regarding State Governments. The Commission is to be consulted on major policy matters affecting SC/ST. While investigating matters and complaints the Commission has the powers of a civil court including collection of evidence, calling witnesses and requisitioning documents or records. It has examined several cases of atrocities on SC/ST in different parts of the country and recommended appropriate action.
- National Commission For Minorities : The National Commission for Minorities has a background which levels both political pulls and pressures. This body was set up to replace the Minorities Commission, which was born in 1978, when it was realised that the rights provided under the Constitution for the minorities were not specific enough and that more needed to be done. To introduce confidence among the minorities that the safeguards provided for them in the Constitution are fully implemented, Parliament enacted the National Commission for Minorities Act 1992 providing for setting up of the National Commission for Minorities as a statutory body.
Following are the major functions of the Commission:
- Studying the progress of the development of minorities under the Union and States;
- Monitoring the working of the safeguards by Parliament and the State legislatures;
- Make recommendations for the effective implementation of the safeguards for the protection of the interests of the minorities by the Central Government or State Governments;
- Look into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of the minorities and take these up with the appropriate authorities;
- Cause studies to be taken up on problems arising out of discrimination against minorities and recommend measures to remove these discriminations;
- Research into issues relating to socio-economic and educational development of minorities;
- Suggest appropriate measures in respect of any minority to be undertaken by the Centre or the States;
- Make periodical or special reports to the Central Government on any matter pertaining to minorities and in particular the difficulties they face; and
- Deal with any other matter referred to it by the Central Government.
The main objective of all these provisions is to ensure equality and justice to all sections of the society. The first such Commission was headed by Mr.Sardar Ali Khan.
- National Minorities Development And Finance Corporation : On 15th August 1994, the Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao announced the setting up of the national Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC). This was established with the specific objective of alleviating the lot of 14 percent of the country's population. Its objectives are :
- To promote economic and developmental activities for the benefit of backward sections amongst the minorities, preference being given to occupational groups and women.
- To assist, subject to such income and/or economic criteria, as may be prescribed by the Government from time to time, individuals or groups of individuals belonging to the minorities by way of loans and advances for economically and financially viable schemes and projects.
- To promote self-employment and other ventures for the benefit of minorities.
- To grant loans and advances at such rates of interest as may be determined from time to time in accordance with the guidelines or schemes prescribed by the Central government or by the Reserve Bank of India.
- To extend loans and advance to the eligible members belonging to the minorities for pursuing general professional/technical educational or training at the graduate level and above.
- To assist in the upgradation of technical and entrepreneurial skills to minorities for proper and efficient management of production units.
- To assist State level and other organisations dealing with the development of the minorities by way of providing financial assistance or equity contribution and in obtaining commercial funding or by way of refinancing.
- To work as an apex institution for coordinating and monitoring the work of all corporations/ boards/other bodies set up by the state governments/Union Territory administrations or given the responsibility of assisting the minority for their economic development.
- To help in fur thering government policies and programmes for the development of minorities.
The target group for the NMDFC with regard to direct benefits may be those sections among the minorities whose annual family income is below double the amount which earmarks the poverty line, with preference to the occupation groups and women.